I report here on several recent initiatives to improve my personal productivity, some successful, some not.
Verizon Beats AT&T for Mobile Data Access. My most successful change has been switching from AT&T to Verizon for mobile voice and data. Until September, I used an iPhone 4 on the AT&T 3G network. In the places where I spend time, AT&T data service worked very poorly for me. Pulling e-mail to my iPhone or using it as a hotspot was more often than not a big frustration. With Verizon Wireless, I find so far that data service is much more reliable and consistent. I also enjoy the faster speed of 4G (LTE).
iPhone 5 Underwhelms Except for Siri Dictation. In switching to Verizon, I upgraded to an iPhone 5. The iPhone 5 is a fine device but for me, the only meaningful upgrade from the iPhone 4 is Siri (and LTE support). Siri, the Apple dictation feature, speeds composing text and e-mail messages. At a conventional keyboard, I type very fast; on a the iPhone, I struggle mightily with the virtual keyboard. So dictation saves a lot of time and aggravation. (Siri has other uses but those pale in comparison to substitute for typing.)
Task Management Remains a Challenge. Finding software for task management remains a challenge. As I noted in my 2004 post Tracking Tasks, Outlook is under-powered for task management. Today, OneNote integrates with Outlook tasks. Though I am generally a big OneNote fan, I find its Outlook integration clunky and weak. My colleagues and I tried web-based Asana for both individual and group task management. It received positive reviews but we eventually gave up. For me, the final straw was that Asana did not make comments to tasks searchable. So I am still in search of both individual and group task management tools.
Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp Failed for Me. To simplify my e-mail management and improve synchronization between Outlook and my iPhone, I wanted to migrate from Outlook desktop to Microsoft Office365 / Outlook WebApp ("OWA"). OWA retrieved e-mail from my three work e-mail accounts but failed to retrieve my Yahoo! and gmail personal accounts. I spent several hours with Microsoft support on this to no avail. (Getting through to a human was surprisingly easy and all tech reps were very friendly and responsive.) MSFT offered no explanation re Yahoo!. Re gmail, tech reps suggested turning off 2-factor authentication. Never mind that this is a good security practice; I successfully use Google-generated “application specific passwords” for multiple PC and iOS services. Mentioning my troubles to a couple of friends elicited rather unkind words about OWA from those who use it.
Solid State Drive Speeds Work. I’m on thin ice here because conducting a truly controlled test is hard. But it strikes me that having a solid state drive (SSD), instead of a conventional rotating hard disk drive, dramatically improves PC performance. My 5-month old Toshiba Portege Ultrabook, with SSD, failed. While it was at the factory for warranty repair, I reverted to a back-up PC. The Intel processor in my back-up is the same generation but runs at a slightly faster clock speed. The back-up’s hard disk spins at 7200 RPM (an upgrade from the standard 5400 RPM). Nonetheless, I found the back-up PC noticeably slower for almost every operation. Anecdotal evidence from friends supports the idea that a solid state drive enhances performance.
i-Device Migration Easy - Once You Figure It Out for Yourself. I complained in a post one year ago, Does Apple Oversimplify Technology (or Under-Document)?, that Apple did not properly document how best to migrate an iPhone or iPad to a new PC. By trial and error and several migrations since then, I’ve now figured it out. It’s actually quite simple in the end but it took me a while to figure it out.
Press reports today say Fulbright will merge with Norton Rose. Last week came the news that SNR Denton will merge with Salans (Europe) and Fraser Milner (Canada). What will this mean for client experience and service delivery?
We now see the rise of ever larger, multinational law firms. Many say that these “global platforms” offer clients numerous benefits. That may be so but in my observation, law firm mergers are complicated and distracting. Integrating cultures, practices, business operations, and finances takes times, often years.
So we need to ask how these mega-mergers benefit clients, especially in the short term. I hear clients demanding, first and foremost, better value and greater efficiency. If the global platform law firms can deliver this, it will take time.
Firms not joining up with a mega platform may therefore have a short-term opportunity to gain share. Without the distraction of a merger, firms can improve client experience with better service delivery: project management, pricing, alternative resourcing, knowledge management, client-facing and practice-supporting technology, and business intelligence, to name a few necessary programmatic improvements.
Firms also need to reduce overhead, which means assessing real support needs and streamlining business support services. (For example, yesterday the UK legal press reported that DLA Piper will consolidate its document production in a single location.)
The rapidly changing legal landscape creates threats and opportunities. Smart law firms will work on improving service delivery to keep their top clients happy and gain share of wallet from them.
Ten days ago I attended the Futures Conference, organized by the College of Law Practice Management and hosted by Georgetown Law (agenda). I report here highlights and lessons I learned.
The New Normal of the legal market is all about value for the client. Value is in the eye of the beholder say the panelists in the Exploring the Nuance of Value session. Toby Brown, Director of Pricing, Akin Gump explained that he regularly talks to clients to learn what they mean by value. Sometimes it is lower cost, sometimes it is predictability, and sometimes it is regular, even payments.
Mark Chandler, General Counsel, Cisco Systems called value subjective. He explained this with a core microeconomics 101 concept: “consumer surplus”. Price is the intersection of the supply and demand curves (lines). The consumers constituting that part of the demand curve above and to the left of price intersection point would willingly pay more. So even in rigid classical economics, where there is a single market price, buyers assign different values to goods. I like that view. At core, Mark and Toby agree that law firms need to align how they think and work with law department needs.
Views differ on how best to deliver “value”. Some suppliers, er, I mean law firms, believe that delivering value means working and managing in new and less expensive ways. Four firms participated in a session on “New Model” law firms (which I moderated). All firms started in the last few years; all share the view that they must practice and or conduct business in new and different ways. A few panelist comments stood out for me:
- Just as business people cannot and should not meddle with law practice, “lawyers cannot meddle in how the business is run.” I also like what I consider two corollaries, “I have never met a lawyer in the business section of a bookstore” and “Why did we ever think that owners should manage?”
- Our value proposition: “Fine legal minds at one-half the rate”
- We built our firm with the view “Customer out, not partner down”.
- “We put our fees at risk”
Whatever their differences, these firms focus on delivering lower cost legal service. They have reduced the expensive downtown trappings of BigLaw and the huge staff support structures as well. They tap very experienced lawyers but manage them in new ways. Two firms explicitly separate business management from practicing lawyers. Two have invested heavily in technology to deliver lower cost, higher value service.
New Model law firms, however, have no monopoly on value. At least not according to the two InnovAction Award winners (see my separate real-time conference blog post on InnovAction for more details). The winners, Seyfarth (for Seyfarth Lean) and Littler (for Littler CaseSmart), both AmLaw 100 firms, say that big and established firms can innovate and deliver more value, that client’s don’t have to turn to New Model firms. Based on the innovations, I have to agree (though it’s not clear how many other firms are following in their footsteps).
With all the discussion of cost and value, it’s always helpful to remember that not everything that counts can be counted, at least not in dollars. Diversity consultant Vernā Myers gave a fabulous, dynamic presentation. She observed that diversity initiatives have taken a hit with economic tightening. As firms hire fewer new associates, they have become ever more credential conscious and risk-averse, which works against diversity. As firms hire lateral partners, they focus on nabbing big books of business, which favors older white men. A sobering reminder that lawyers need to remember that the drive for value cannot be focused only on pure dollars and cents.
You may wonder how technology plays into the value equation. As a conference co-chair, I saw no compelling topic on technology for the corporate legal market. In contrast, however, The Consumer Law Revolution session very much was about technology. The audience heard about a multitude of start-ups serving the consumer market. While these have much promise, the jury is, as they say, still out. We also heard about document assembly and interactive expert systems. Both have been available for years so it is not clear if they will have break-out moments. One panelist noted that given how many consumers cannot afford legal representation, it is morally reprehensible that lawyers deploy so few automated systems. I agree and would add that if general counsels were not cut of the same cloth as BigLaw, they might well call the limited used of tech by the AmLaw 200 scandalous.
As much as we hear about value and alternative fees and value, the change appears more evolutionary than revolutionary. In the session The New Normal from the GC Perspective, well-known ‘value advocate’ Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership (and ex-ACC) made a forceful case for value and for change. Her GC co-panelists, however, on balance, seemed more concerned with expertise and cultural fit than explicitly reducing cost or redefining value.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the session The Future of Managing Partners, which featured four managing partners. They focused mainly on culture and consensus. I heard much less about how these firms are adapting to the New Normal than I expected. I may, however, have been swayed by the Tweet stream. The Twitter conversation was quite at odds with the panelist comments. (Notes: 1. Archived conference Tweet stream here. 2. On day one, our hashtag, #COLPM, was the top trending term on Twitter!) The Tweets noting that the panel would not have been so different 30 years ago summed it up well. My favorite live moment was an audience question suggesting that “culture” is an excuse never to change. I’ve been there!
If I draw one, overarching conclusion from the conference, it is that the legal market is changing. It never changes as fast as I would like but the economic pressures are real. Enough clients now demand change and enough new model and traditional firms offer new approaches that I am confident we will continue to see real change. I am also confidant that large law firms that innovate to improve service delivery and client experience can maintain and gain share and profitability.